In 1929, a town in Wisconsin gave birth to a very unusual organization that still exists to this day: the Burlington Liars' club.
The idea originated with Manuel Hahn, a newspaper correspondent, in response to a lack of news one January, as Manuel later wrote:
"I was ...free-lancing - a euphemism for starving genteelly. ...I received a limited supply of cash each month for sending in a total of so many inches of such tidbits as, ‘Hiram Blotz... was arrested here today for speeding. He was fined $2 and costs.' Unfortunately, Hiram and his ilk had been disgustingly law-abiding and there were no fires, murders, or train wrecks to swell the total of ‘space' to my credit. It was time for drastic action, what with Christmas bills arriving, so I sat down and concocted a fantasy of the non-existent meeting of an ephemeral ‘liars' club' and its award of a medal."
Manuel thought that would be the end of the matter, but a wire service distributed his tale to papers around the country. And while that was surprising, he was even more surprised the next year when papers began calling, eager to hear about the next annual winner! It quickly became apparent that a "real" liars' club was needed! A club was quickly formed, and a new tradition begun .... choosing the best lie New Year's Eve and announcing it in the New Year. The club was soon receiving tales from across the United States and from other countries.
And 48 year ago this month, the club gained attention for North Dakota when the state became the object of the award-winning lie! Written by Frank Goulette of California, this lie was a popular story in January of 1951:
"One winter, while I was working on a pile driver in North Dakota, it got so cold that one night a member of our crew froze to death in bed.
The ground was frozen so hard that it was impossible to dig a grave. In fact, we never did find out how far down it was frozen. But this I do know: Seeing we couldn't dig a grave, we stood the fellow on his head under the pile driver-and we had to drive on him seven days and seven nights before we got him down far enough for a decent burial!"
One wonders, after a winter like this, if perhaps the lie has some truth to it, after all.
By Sarah Walker
The Minot Daily News, Friday, December 29, 1950
Emmons County Record, Thursday, January 11, 1951